Independent Filmmaking – Finding your style

Finding your style & not being afraid of it looking weird.

When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.’
Quentin Tarantino

Laundry room scene, Glendale, July 2014…

Thanks Quentin! I’m right there with you!

No need to worry that you haven’t gone to film school, or even that you have little or no experience on other peoples films, although I would recommend volunteering, it’s a great way to learn what not to do, as well as a few tricks.

It also gives you confidence, which, let’s face it, is more than half the battle in anything!

But it’s certainly not essential at any level of filmmaking, most of the famous directors never went, they either learnt on their own, or apprenticed, or were something else in film before they directed. Scorsese was an editor, James Cameron a set designer, so you can find your way in any way.

I am prepping for a short film at the moment. The script is written, the casting is done and I have my location secured, which I’m very excited about as it’s the first time I have shot in an actual professional establishment, (sandwich bar).

It’s a short film, a one night shoot, and I really only need hair and makeup and sound, other than myself and my husband…, what else is there to do I hear you cry?

Hmmm…depends on what you want to achieve.

I have shot many, many short films, about 58 at last count. I have been producer on almost all of them, director on 20 of them, and writer. DP on maybe 15 I think, sound, even a bit of makeup and pretty much everything else you can think of, including actor, very reluctantly.

But this time, with this particular project, as the writer and director, I am looking for a little more.

More what?

More style.

It’s easy enough to capture what you have prepared, to light it well enough, to cast it well enough, to get the coverage well enough and put it together and tell a story. But enough just isn’t enough for me anymore, and not just in film, but that’s another story!

I want more…or everything I can get, really.

I have a lovely camera, the cast is going to be brilliant and I lucked out supremely with the amazing location, my son works there!

So I don’t want any of this to go to waste, and to just end up with something nice….yuk!

But, since I am completely responsible for everything on this film, I wrote it I will direct and produce it and probably shoot it, I have to be really sure about everything. So I am doing my homework.

I did go to film school, or a perfect version of it for me. I took a degree in Creative Media, my focus on film. So I didn’t have access to expensive Red camera’s, or sets, or any of the fancy professional stuff. My department had a small studio equipped with semiprofessional cameras, lights and sound equipment. Our guidance was just that, guidance. We weren’t told how to do it, we were supported in our attempts, we were encouraged to take chances and we were all in it together.

It was everything I could have designed for myself as a lesson in modern, low budget filmmaking. Something that, at every media level, is where all the exciting stuff is happening right now.

So with a strong background in freestyle, freelance and free filmmaking and a lot of films under my belt, what more could I need to learn?

Well, probably a lot…and mostly about myself.

Like any other art form, once you are proficient in the basics, once you have your foundation steady, then comes the hard part. Finding yourself within the form.

I have a friend, Brendan, who, as it happens will be in my new film, and he says that he can always tell my film from any other in the 52 Films/ 52 Weeks project. “Your films are very cerebral,” he says, “I can always tell yours from anyone else’s.” Well thank you, I think…

But seriously, thank you Brendan. Because without being conscious of it, after writing and directing 20 films, I really should have a style by now and that means I have to trust myself with that style and maybe push it a little more, which I plan to do.

Confidence is everything, and that can only be achieved, if it is merited, by actually doing it. So I’ve done it, a lot.

Now I am all over Netflix etc., looking at style.

I know how to extrapolate a shot list from a script, I know how to frame a shot. I know enough about lighting to know what I like and what I don’t, and I know editing. So what else am I looking for?

A bit of magic.

The kind you see on film and gasp at. I’m not taking about amazing CGI, or dinosaurs or even, heaven forbid, 3D or whatever.

I’m talking about shadows on faces, and strange and beautiful sweeping camera movements, and holding and holding until it’s painful to watch.


We can and should all reach for magic as we make our films. We need to take chances, to push our own limits and to believe that we can. We need to believe that we deserve to produce something magical.

So that is my intention, no, my certainty with my next film.

And as I troll the film universe, in search of inspiration and stuff to pinch, I will remember that I am an explorer in a dark and distant galaxy, looking for humanity in light and dark and pixels….

And perhaps, if I can manage it, some strange and beautiful sweeping camera movements.